Four Basics to Building Trust in Organizations

Think about your top three most admired leaders. It’s a safe bet that one quality they share is trust, both in the sense of being trusted and in trusting others. Warren Bennis, considered by many as the pioneer of leadership studies, said “Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.” Indeed, trust is essential for building effective teams, nurturing collaboration, and keeping lines of communication open.

Business man having concerns about work-1.jpegStatistics regarding employee engagement are dismal, with most reports showing that one-third or less of employees are truly engaged. Trust is an important driver of happy and productive employees. A lack of trust contributes to high turnover, low productivity, and faltering profitability.

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Even among organizations that have built and nurtured considerable trust, that sense of trust is fragile due to changes that occur in personnel, leadership, and market conditions. Therefore, building trust is an ongoing organizational culture activity, one for which effective leaders create and maintain a high-level of awareness. Trust helps ensure employee engagement, high performance, as well as happy clients and customers. 

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout. (Zak, 2017; Harvard Business Review)

 A good question for any organization to explore is, “How can we better foster trust in our workplace?” Here are a few essential tips. 

  1. Lead with Trust

The question of where trust originates is like the argument of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Effective leaders give trust first, effectively communicate, and authentically show up every day.

Unposed group of creative business people in an open concept office brainstorming their next project..jpegThink of it this way—you did a great job of recruiting a new person. You extended an offer because you trust that the candidate can do the job. The candidate accepted the offer because they trust you will be a good employer. The offer and acceptance of a job is the beginning of mutual trust. Part of each supervisor’s job is to keep that mutual trust flourishing.

Being open, honest, transparent, and emphasizing that trust is a two-way street builds and nourishes a trusting culture. Trust-building leaders acknowledge that everyone is learning as the workplace and market realities change. Being flexible and patient creates an environment where trust can flourish.

  1. Communicate Shared Goals

Employees sense mutual trust and value when they are kept in the loop with the organization’s activities. Effective leaders ensure that all employees know the organization’s goals and what part they personally play in them. Further, well-trained leaders clearly communicate how the performance of an individual or work group affects other individuals and work groups in the organization.

Double exposure of businessman hand working with new modern computer and business strategy as concept.jpegOpen communication not only ensures that everyone knows how their function relates to the overall performance of the organization, but it also encourages shared leadership to keep everyone “in the know,” especially during times of fast change.

Leaders realize that strategic communications must be planned, carefully managed, measured, and improved in a continuous process. It is not a task to be checked off a list, but a part of ongoing organizational maintenance. Likewise, trust is a cycle that can be continuously reinforced, with communication as a critical element.

  1. Manage Expectations

To revisit the example of hiring a new employee, as part of new hire orientation, you discuss mutual expectations and the employee’s responsibility for commitments. One important responsibility is to communicate when unexpected issues jeopardize commitments. Mutual trust includes a commitment to keep all stakeholders apprised of changes in the schedule, especially when unplanned issues arise.

In other words, we can all understand that unexpected circumstances arise. The expectation is that we are informed as soon as possible of changes in delivery dates and other commitments. Communicating openly and honestly results in trust within and across work groups, as well as with customers and vendors. 

  1. Create a Safe Environment for Finding and Fixing Broken Processes

When you believe in your employees, you let them do their job. Of course, you check in on their progress and ask if they need assistance to remove any roadblocks, but you let them do the job you hired them to do. You communicate with them as one adult to another, and you trust them to do the same.

When difficulties arise, effective leaders address them in an open and honest manner, looking for root causes and solutions. Employees are more likely to bring forward issues and suggest improvements when they feel their actions will be met with encouragement and appreciation for shedding light on the situation, and calm discussions of how the team can set up better monitoring and be prepared to make more efficient and effective decisions in the future.

Leaders who have a grasp on mutual trust typically address performance issues without attacking the individual. Very few people get up in the morning and eagerly think about how they can mess up things. Most often, poor performance is due to miscommunication, lack of training, or a mismatch of skills with the job requirements. By approaching performance from a process perspective, managers and employees can create solutions.

Organization analysis and change management takes focused planning. With the war for talent becoming more intense, the effort is well worth it to ensure your organization finds and nurtures highly qualified and engaged employees. 

There are proactive steps any organization can take to better manage change and employee engagement. Solutions often include ongoing leadership and communications training, coaching, and mentoring. To read more about change management and employee engagement, download our complimentary change management eBook by pressing on the link below.


What other tips would you recommend for building trust and improving employee engagement? Comment and share below! 

And speaking of sharing, please forward this article to anyone you know who may have an interest in better building trust at work.


CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

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Warren Bennis link:

Call out box link:

Trust link:

Trust is a cycle: file:///C:/Users/glori/OneDrive/Documents/CATMEDIA%20work/Marketing/Blog%20review/Trust%20blog/Nurturing_Collaborative_Relations_Building_Trust_i.pdf



Gloria F. Pobst, Ph.D., MBA

About Gloria F. Pobst, Ph.D., MBA

Gloria Pobst helps organizations and work groups drive performance through change management, leadership development, and action learning. She has expertise in both quantitative and qualitative research, including ethnographic methods. You can connect with Gloria via Twitter @GloriaPobst or LinkedIn.

View all posts by Gloria F. Pobst, Ph.D., MBA

Leadership, Change Management, Strategic Communication, building trust

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